“Things are always worse the second time around,” scolds Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) as he warns of the diminishing returns that come with sequels that simply offer more of the same, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller once again having a blast going full meta in this successful, if uneven, follow-up to 2012’s unexpected hit 21 Jump Street.
This time around our favourite pair of knucklehead cops, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum), have been given swish new digs befitting of a pumped-up action sequel, moving in to a Vietnamese church across the street that has been kitted-out to resemble MI6’s secret HQ in Skyfall and includes a swanky office for Ice Cube’s character that looks like an actual ice cube. Get it?
But before the duo can shoot-off in some new imaginative direction, their pencil-pushing superior is on hand to set them straight. Instead of joining the Secret Service and protecting the White House as Tatum’s character suggests, Schmidt and Jenko are going back to school, this time as college freshman, to uncover the source of a dangerous new drug on campus in a plot that mirrors that of its predecessor beat for beat.
It’s a risky move to frequently emphasize the potential pratfalls of repetitive sequels, but for the most part Lord and Miller, the creative geniuses behind The Lego Moive, have the smarts to pepper the familiar ground with fresh gags. Of course, it helps that they are capable of covering a broad range of comedic styles from pure slapstick (Schmidt and Jenko try to pursue a dealer while tangled in a fishing net) to subtle sight gags (watch out for the “23 Jump Street coming soon” construction sign) to the just plain odd (Jonah Hill fighting an octopus).
While the main plot is given little attention, the over-riding theme of things losing their shine the second time around paves the way for a new twist on the buddy cop genre as Schmidt and Jenko’s parternship hits a rocky patch when Jenko strikes up a yang and yang friendship with fellow meathead and football star Zook (Wyatt Russell). This leaves Schmidt to take a stab at being the lonely artistic-type, improvising beat poetry with enough élan to impress perky art major Maya (Stevens).
Their romance takes an unexpected turn in the form of a hilariously disastrous lunch with Maya’s parents, but the real love story here is between the central pairing of Schmidt and Jenko. 22 Jump Street cranks up the homoeroticism to all new levels with a brief Segway into romantic comedy territory as the boys decide they want to investigate other people. Que a clever split screen montage that shows the separated couple moping through their new lives before they realise they actually miss the very things they thought they hated about one another.
As with most improvisation comedies there are a fair few flabby patches as the jokes misfire, and the constant warnings about diminishing returns threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy as the endless repetition starts to grate by the end of the second act. There are at least three car chases, apparently Lord and Miller’s go to action sequence, none of which offer a new take on the familiar trope, while the ‘college days’ scenes of spring break, frat house initiations and awkward sexual encounters have been done before and better elsewhere.
Yet 22 Jump Street must ultimately be judged on the quality of jokes it serves up, and Lord and Miller throw gags at the screen with such a fervid frequency that, even though many fail to land, more than enough hit their mark to make it easy to forget about the clunkers and uninspiring plot. The result is a sequel that does exactly what it sets out to do, offering-up another silly delight that provides ample room for its greatest asset, Hill and Tatum’s surprising double act, to shine.
Runtime: 112 Minutes Genre: Action/Comedy Released: 6 June 2014
Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller Writers: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Amber Stevens, Ice Cube
Click here to watch the trailer for 22 Jump Street